No White Flag: Napoleon in Exile – March 2015

contains pieces of red, white and blue silk. An accompanying scrap of paper reads "Pieces of the silk of which the flags that waved over Napoleon were made. St-Helena 19 May 1843"
Pieces of the Tricolore from St. Helena (Clarke (Edwin) General Archive, 2305)

The 20th March 2015 marks the 200th anniversary of the start of Napoleon Bonaparte’s ‘Hundred Days’ marking the period between the Emperor of France’s return to Paris and the eventual second restoration of King Louis XVIII. Having escaped from his enforced exile on the Mediterranean island of Elba the month before, displaying the charismatic leadership that saw him seize control of most of continental Europe, Napoleon built up a loyal following of 200,000 men, but ultimately led them to his most famous defeat at the Battle of Waterloo on 18th June.

One of the more unusual items in Special Collections purports to be a relic from his final exile on St. Helena following this campaign. The Clarke (Edwin) General Archive, built up by local historian and avid collector Edwin Clarke (1919-1996), contains pieces of red, white and blue silk. An accompanying scrap of paper reads “Pieces of the silk of which the flags that waved over Napoleon were made. St-Helena 19 May 1843”. It is made out to a Robert McCormick (1800-1890); the original owner, who was a naval surgeon and naturalist aboard Charles Darwin’s ship HMS Beagle.

Napoleon’s reputation as one of the greatest military leaders and tacticians in history, and the power of the Tricolore as the symbol for French nationalism during their age of revolution, marks this out as a prized item to have for collectors and an artefact of real intrigue in our holdings.

Napoleon returned from Elba, by Karl Stenben, 19th century (Charles de Steuben, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Newcastle Illuminated, 1814 – May 2014

Two hundred years ago this month, on the evening of 10th May 1814, the town of Newcastle was flooded with light in celebration of the defeat and abdication of Napoleon and his exile to Elba, perceived to signal the end of the Napoleonic Wars which had seen the country at war for more than ten years.

This broadside advertised the illumination event. It was seemingly well-organised by town officials who were anxious to preserve the peace and ensure safety, forbidding the letting-off of guns and fireworks and appointing Peace Officers to patrol the streets. Participants were also warned not to harass any Quakers who might abstain from the celebrations on religious grounds, being pacifists.

The event was universally held to be a great success. Local newspapers printed lengthy and effusively-worded accounts. The Newcastle Advertiser said, “At half-past eight o’clock in the evening the signal was given from the castle for lighting up, and, as if by magic, the whole town appeared in a few minutes one blaze of light”. People from all classes of society took part by lighting up their home or premises, “every one striving to excel his neighbour in testifying his joy at the return of peace, after a sanguinary war of unusual duration”.

All of the light displays were patriotic and many incorporated transparencies, pictures made from translucent paints on materials like calico, linen or oiled paper and lit from behind with candles.

Highlights included Messrs Farrington of the Bigg-market who filled the arched gateway in front of their warehouse with a large transparency of the Duke of Wellington attired as Mars, presenting Peace to Britannia; and Messrs Brumwell and Dobson, chemists, Sandhill who exhibited a large painting representing the inside of a laboratory and the Devil pounding Bonaparte to powder in a mortar. Mr Waters’ Floor-cloth manufactory was singled out as being especially brilliant, incorporating a giant lit image of an anchor, nearly 40 feet high. The doorway of the Theatre Royal was lavishly lit and occupied by the Newcastle arms with a Latin inscription which in translation means, “May Newcastle flourish into eternity, nourished by abundance and peace”. Also mentioned is a certain Mr Dobson, architect, of Mosley Street who displayed a transparency of Britannia seated, with the British Lion defiantly pacing the shore. Displays such as that at the Dun Cow public house on the Quayside, “a neat, though small transparency, exhibiting the Sailor paid off, and the Soldier returned to this wife and family” hint at the social and economic disruption that the Wars had brought.

It would seem the town officials’ precautionary measures paid off, as the Advertiser reported, “We did not hear of a single disturbance or accident”. According to the Chronicle, the only negative element to the proceedings was “the carelessness and indifference of the coachmen, who were driving the carriages of those who chose to view the exhibition of the evening in that manner; as, by their negligence, were often endangered the lives and limbs of the pedestrians.”

Of course, these celebrations would prove to be a year premature, as ten months later Napoleon escaped from Elba and reassumed power over France until his eventual defeat at Waterloo in June 1815.